Opening a business during a global pandemic is challenging, and doing so in a small town like Albertville is a whole other beast. But so far, for the staff of the Hen & the Hog restaurant — which opened its doors in Albertville in December — things have been going relatively well thanks to the rallying support of the community when they needed it most.
“I’ll be honest with you, we were probably one phone call away from not opening at one point,” said co-owner Matt Taus. “We were on the wire if we were gonna be able to do this, and we took a chance. We were down to the nitty gritty and we finally just said, ‘Let’s open the doors,’ and when we did … unbelievable, the response.”
The power couples in charge — Amanda and Ben Frank, and Becky and Matt Taus — joined forces last summer when the Franks were working at a Maple Grove restaurant. Matt Taus and his wife, Becky, were looking for someone to help with branding and marketing for a new venture, and Amanda Frank introduced them to her husband Ben.
From there, the Hen and the Hog was born, with all four taking on a partner role. Since the pandemic was well underway when the Franks and Tauses decided to pursue the restaurant, they had the advantage (if you can call it that) of being able to focus on takeout operations straightaway.
“We were so thankful to be on the tail-end of it, where we could start off already knowing we were going to be takeout and sort of do it in reverse and be able to provide to the community in a safe way,” said Becky Taus.
“We took this shutdown as more of an opportunity than a negative,” said Matt Taus. “It gave us the time to really dig deep into [the concept] and get stuff done at a faster pace than if we were all working full-time.”
This concept he speaks of? Elevated comfort food with an emphasis on local ingredients, straight from their made-from-scratch kitchen. For example, the restaurant’s namesake dish The Hen is brined with apple cider from the Pepin Heights Family farm — you won’t find much that is store bought over here.
Ben Frank is the culinary maestro behind it all, creating classics that every Midwesterner would drool over. Take the Minnesota wontons, for example. Pickles, pastrami and cream cheese wrapped in a crispy wonton take the beloved pickle rollup up a notch, with a sweet story.
“Matt’s aunt used to make them and she passed away from breast cancer, so it was sort of a tribute to her,” said Becky Taus. “We needed to elevate those, and we thought, ‘What better way than a wonton?’”
Anything baked is also bound to be delicious, and is backed by about eight decades of culture, if you will.
“Our sourdough starter has been passed down in my family’s line for the past 80 years ... It came from the same starter that my great-grandfather used when making bread,” said Matt Taus, proud of the generational base for Hen & the Hog’s doughs.
Local meats are also a must at this joint, and once their beer and wine license comes through, brews and vino will be in stock as well.
But beyond the wings fried in bacon fat and other amped up guilty pleasures — which Ben Frank calls “a little cheffy, but still accessible for everybody” — is the community values that the Hen & the Hog staff have.
“We live in this community, all four of us, so we want to dive in and give back to this community as much as we possibly can, too,” said Matt Taus. “This community is an amazing community, and we want to be a part of that. It’s been great that they have supported us, so now it’s time for us to support them.”
The Hen & the Hog is located at 5262 Kyler Avenue in Albertville, and hopes to expand its existing space soon. The four owners also have a sister company — Raw Table — that will be tentatively opening in June in the ‘The Well On Main’ building currently being constructed in St. Michael.